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Family Drug & Alcohol Courts proven to be effective
NatCen multi-site evaluation of Family Drug & Alcohol courts proves them to be effective

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National evaluation

Foundations, the national What Works Centre for Children & Families, has published a new evaluation of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDAC) today. This includes both an outcome evaluation and a process evaluation.  Alongside this, they have also published a policy and practice implications paper.

Headline findings

Conducted by NatCen, this evaluation was commissioned to assess and understand the impact of FDAC, comparing the outcomes it achieves compared to a similar matched counterfactual group who went through standard care proceedings. It is the first multi-site evaluation of FDAC conducted to date, and builds on the existing evidence base, most notably the wider international evidence base and the previous evaluations conducted on the Pan-London FDAC by Lancaster University. 

The statistically significant findings are:

  • Children with a primary carer in FDAC care proceedings were more likely to be reunified with their primary carer at the end of the care proceeding in comparison to children with a primary carer in non-FDAC care proceedings (52.0% versus 12.5%).
  • A higher proportion of FDAC than comparison parents had ceased to use drugs or alcohol by the end of the proceedings (33.6% versus 8.1%).
  • The proportion of hearings being contested was lower for FDAC than standard care proceedings (4.2% versus 23.8%).
  • A lower proportion of FDAC cases used external expert witness assessments compared with non-FDAC care proceedings (7.7% versus 96.1%).
  • Children in FDAC sites had lower probability of being placed in LA care compared with non-FDAC care proceedings (28.6% versus 54.7%).

While the evaluation is comprehensive and marks an important addition to the literature supporting a positive impact of FDAC on the intended outcomes, the report does also acknowledge limitations that should be addressed in future evaluations.

The process evaluation found, amongst other things, that two key facilitators of perceived positive outcomes for families were:

  • The package of high-intensity, wraparound, multidisciplinary support FDAC provided – flexibly tailored for each individual, and coordinated by key workers, with whom parents can develop a trusted relationship; you can see the wide range of support provided by FDACs in the chart I have reproduced below.
  • The FDAC judges’ role: leading and providing active oversight to the whole process; and having direct contact with parents, encouraging them to make and sustain changes.      

Policy & practice implications

Much of the value of this multi-site evaluation lies in the accompanying policy and practice implications paper. You can download this 12 page document from here. The main implications are summarised briefly below:

  • The Department for Education and the Care Proceedings Reform Group should consider embedding evaluation, including a cost analysis, in any scale up of problem-solving approaches in family courts.
  • The learning from the process evaluation conducted as part of this study can be used to strengthen problem-solving approaches in family court: The information in the IPE around how best to establish Family Drug & Alcohol Courts and overcome the challenges in implementation should be considered when delivering problem-solving approaches in family court.
  • Given the overall evidence base, local commissioners should consider how Family Drug & Alcohol Court can form part of their services for families, and how it would operate alongside other substance misuse services.
  • Data collection during standard care proceedings should be improved.


Thanks to the Centre for Justice Innovation for drawing my attention to this evaluation and to Juliane Liebermann for kind permission to use the header image, previously published on Unsplash.

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